Committee to Vote on Ballot Question’s Flood Control Language

Image: Truckee River Flood Management Project.
Image: Truckee River Flood Management Project.

A flood control committee is expected to request Washoe County commissioners approve a question for November’s general election ballot that would ask voters for an increase in property taxes to pay for flood management projects.

The Truckee River Flood Control Project Needs Committee asked its staff on Thursday to clarify the question’s language and make more interpretable to the public before commissioners review it.

General counsel Michael Wolz said he’d tweak the language and have the Washoe County District Attorney’s office review it before bringing it back to the committee on March 29 for a vote.

If approved, voters can expect to see an increase of 2.16 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation. The tax would be effective up to 30 years from issuance of bonds and would terminate when bonds are retired, according to the committee.

Flood waters in Lemmon Valley. Image: Washoe County.
Flood waters in Lemmon Valley. Image: Washoe County.

This property tax increase will raise about $400 million, which could potentially secure an additional $182 million in federal funding.

Anticipated uses of the funds are as follows:

  • Final engineering, design, and permitting of the flood protection project
  • Construction of levees and flood walls along the Truckee River
  • Widening of the Truckee River Channel at the Vista Narrows
  • Terracing and environmental restoration along the Truckee River
  • The elevation of homes within the home elevation project boundaries
  • Downstream mitigation project planning, design, and construction

The need for this project was illustrated by the 1997 flood that caused damage in excess of $1 billion, which the committee said is the equivalent of annual damages estimated to range from $22 to $52 million.

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Committee chairman Bob LaRiviere said the question needs to be more more readable and layman-friendly. The first sentence should ask voters if they’d support a property tax increase if they knew a $400 million project was going to happen, he said.

“It was my understanding we were going to set the stage for an introduction of, ‘Would you pass this if…’ All of a sudden, you jump into this (bureaucratic jargon),” LaRiviere said. “(If I’m an average member of the public) I don’t know anything about this. I don’t know what the project is. I don’t know how much it would cost.”

Committee consultant John Sherman said such details were provided in the explanation.

LaRiviere said people may or may not take the time to read an explanation.

“My understanding was that we were going to put that preamble in (the question). Is that correct?” LaRiviere asked. “Don’t you want to capture them on the question?”

Fellow committee member Marge Frandsen agreed.

“As a person who’s participated in writing pros or cons to ballot questions in the past, I can tell you you’re absolutely right,” Frandsen said. “Very few people read the explanation.”

Carla O'Day
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Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.